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Offbeat: Hidden Charms > The Bad Roads: Gulf Coast Garage KingsBy Michael Hurtt
Five years ago, Sundazed Records released a snarling, fuzzed-out four song EP by one of the greatest ‘60s garage bands to ever don madras pants, crank up their amplifiers and cop bad attitudes. Though Lake Charles’ Bad Roads only produced two singles during their brief reign as Louisiana’s answer to the Rolling Stones, fans of wild rock ‘n’ roll could hardly have asked for a more crazed discography. Their 1966 debut, "Blue Girl," c/w "Too Bad" (and released on the swamp pop-heavy Jin label, no less!!) stands as one of the most savage examples of post-Kingsmen, pre-Stooges punk rock ever committed to wax.
Having marveled at their sound for years, when it was announced that they’d be playing at this year’s Ponderosa Stomp I figured it was about time that I paid my respects in person. And, after spending a most memorable evening with drummer Danny Kimball and guitarist Briant Smith, both of whom now reside in Lafayette, I’ve come to the following conclusion: the abbreviated story that follows should be looked upon in the same way in which Briant characterizes their upcoming New Orleans appearance: "What’s gonna happen at Mid-City Lanes is not a four hour gig," he explains. "And you can’t really appreciate how totally ugly we are until you see the four hour gig."
Best friends since childhood, Kimball and Smith listened to the radio religiously while they were growing up and began attending dances at the neighborhood Knights Of Columbus hall in their early teens. "KLOU used to get everything out of New Orleans," says Danny, "the Cosimo’s stuff; everything would make its way through Lake Charles on its way to Houston. So you were exposed to that, but you also had all these older cats, like Clint West, who played white rhythm and blues. They were so fuckin’ good it was like listening to Duke Ellington. Their musicianship was phenomenal."
"The Friday night dances were all live music," remembers Briant. "Sonny and the Blue Diamonds, the Boogie Kings, you’d go see these guys and it was just a cool thing to do. So we were really interested in music before the Beatles got there but when the Beatles showed up it was like, ‘Wow.’ My dad was saying, ‘That’s crap.’ And that’s all it took to tell me this is a good thing. If he hates it, this is right!"
"We started bangin’ around in the neighborhood," adds Danny. "We had Mike Hicks on bass and eventually we found Terry Green. And Terry was bad ass, man, he listened to Lonnie Mack and he had a Strat. He was really good and the rest of us had some catchin’ up to do."
Brian: "Originally we were an instrumental band called the Avengers, and we backed people like Walter Allen. These singers would show up with their Hammond B3 and their Leslie tone cabinet and we would back them. And one day Terry just said, ‘You know what? They’re getting the lion’s share, why don’t we start singing and making a little money?"
Fate stepped in one day in 1965 via the radio, as Danny recalls. "Briant and Terry and I were driving around in Terry’s old man’s truck and it was raining and ‘Satisfaction’ came on. We pulled over and we just listened and went, ‘That’s fuckin’ it. That’s where we’re goin’.’ We go by that spot today and say, ‘That’s where it happened.’
"To me, the Stones, like the Beatles, they gave us our music back. We’d lost all that, the rockabilly and everything. But when Out Of Our Heads came out it had the whole New Orleans thing, everything that we knew. It was suddenly like, ‘Fuck! There’s our music, except it’s got some edge!’ It wasn’t all that clean and polished, it had this feel. The Beatles had those voices but the cool thing about the Stones was anybody could sing their stuff. It was about attitude and feeling."
Having changed their name to the Bad Roads, they were playing a party around Thanksgiving of ’65 when Buz Clark, who’d sung with the River Rats during his years at Lake Charles High but was now attending Louisiana Tech on a football scholarship, stopped by and sat in. "He quit school shortly after that," remembers Danny, noting that Buz had spent the intervening six months after he joined hitch hiking from college in Ruston to the band’s various weekend gigs.
"There were times," says Briant, "when we’d be set up and we’d actually start the gig. We’d be playing, and have no idea if Buz was gonna show or not!"
With Clark as their front man, the planets quickly aligned. Danny: "The first time our band really got crazy was when we played a Battle Of The Bands at the National Guard Armory in Lake Charles. Charles Mann had a big rhythm and blues band, like a little tier Boogie Kings type of band, a big horn section; they all had the suits. There were five or six bands, the place was packed. And we won. And Charles Mann hated us for it! They were a really good band, but you didn’t have guitar players in those bands that soloed too much, they didn’t play really nasty stuff. And Terry was a bona fide mother fucker. The two guitar thing was happening; Briant was a great rhythm player and Terry would just burn. Buz let it loose and we had really good wild energy, we just tore a new asshole in that place that night. It was perfect."
Their visceral approach to music wasn’t all that set them apart, as Briant relates.
"Back in those days, bands, when they went to play, they all wore suits—green-blue iridescent was a big hit, I remember that. Everybody dressed alike and you always dressed up; your shoes were shined and your pants were pressed. One day we were playing a big affair at McNeese University, it was a homecoming dance or something. And my mother had read this article that said the boys up at Harvard were wearing blue work shirts, that that was really cool. And my father had a shitload of ‘em. So we went to that gig dressed in blue jeans and old ratty work shirts with the tails hangin’ out." He pauses momentarily. "And the feces hit the ventilating duct. Some lower echelon minion grabbed us and they were gonna cancel the dance—of course, the kids were already there. After thirty minutes of flailing around and hand-wringing and oh-ohing and everything else they said, ‘Well, you got us, we can’t get anybody else to play the gig, there’s no jukebox, there’s no nothing else, you guys can go ahead and play. But we’re going on record: you guys are really, really suck-ass, you’re full of shit for showing up looking like that.’ And that was pretty much it from then on. There was no more convention, no more conforming."
They may not have been welcome at McNeese anymore, but the Bad Roads soon became a favorite at LSU’s fraternity row, where they often found themselves playing next door to the Gentrys, the Gants or the Basement Wall during football season. "The Greek Fountains were the best band in the state," recalls Danny. "Cyril Vetter on drums, it was extraordinary. To see that caliber of players in one place at one time, you didn’t see that too often. Lake Charles had its own little thing but these guys had hit records. So that was a big thing."
"There’d be parties all up and down the street," says Briant. "We’d go in, play the afternoon gig for two hours, they’d get tanked up, then they’d go off to the game. And we’d play after the game til all hours. Whoever wrote Animal House graduated from LSU in 1965, trust me. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. I was there. John Belushi lived at the TKE house!"
One day in August of ’66 they went over to Floyd Soileau’s studio in Ville Platte and cut the record that would live in garage band infamy. "Blue Girl" was a Buz Clark original with an impossibly fast Bo Diddley rhythm garnished by Terry’s ripping fuzz guitar, while the flip side, "Too Bad," with its snotty put-down lyrics, featured Terry on lead vocals. When the record began getting airplay in Lake Charles, Baton Rouge and Lafayette, things really started to take off.
Briant: "It’s so cool to be a sixteen-year-old kid drivin’ down the road in your automobile—or your parents’ automobile—listening to yourself on the radio. Within ninety days after the record came out there was another Battle Of The Bands at the Armory and the Bad Roads were there. We weren’t in the battle; this time we were the featured guest stars. And the Armory, for the first time in its history, was packed to the rafters. We hit the bandstand and Buz reached down and touched a little girl on the cheek and she fainted dead away. I can remember leaving gigs like that and having to take a guitar pick and throw it into the air to get them away from you so you could get to the car. To a kid from Southwest Louisiana it was like, ‘I’m John Lennon, the Beatles got nothin’ on me, baby.’ It was really, really, really incredible, really neat."
In addition to touring with Question Mark and the Mysterions, the Music Machine and Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, the Bad Roads broke attendance records all over the state, as well as at Houston’s notorious Catacombs club, where they often played opposite Jimmy Vaughan’s band the Chessmen and Billy Gibbons’ great garage combo, the Moving Sidewalks. While the kids loved them, their long hair and wild clothes also necessitated a guitar case filled with axe handles, broken mike stands and guitar necks that permanently sat on stage to fend off detractors if the need should arise. Quite often it did.
"We didn’t have roadies," says Danny, "we had goons. You needed goons."
"They had to be there," laughs Briant. "And they were very good at what they did. We played the York Club in Lafayette one night and some guys were fuckin’ with one of our roadies, Milton Frazier, because he had long hair and was dancing with one of their girls. They walked up to Milton on the dance floor and slapped him. And our goons, Duane Carter and Kenny Cooley, went over and one of the guys sucker-punched Duane. We’re playing and I’m watching this right in front of me. The crowd is backing up against the wall and Duane just laughs at him. About that time all hell broke loose and we went diving off the band stand, all of us, in the middle of the shit. And we’re grabbin’ mike stands and guitar necks and anything we can. The cops came, arrested the assholes, took them away and we went back to playing."
Somehow, amongst all the melee-filled action, the band managed to make it over to Jay Miller’s studio in Crowley to record a follow-up single. By this time, Perry Gaspard, today a successful televangelist, had joined the group on organ, while Bruce "Weasel" MacDonald had replaced Green on guitar. Though the session resulted in two killer staples from their live set—the Kinks’ "Til The End Of The Day" and Them’s "Don’t Look Back"—being issued on the band’s own Rain Tyre label, other memories take precedence over the music they played that day.
Briant: "They had a ladder that went up to the roof and the studio ceiling was very high—twenty-five feet or so. During a break in recording everyone went out to piss, smoke, dope, whatever we were doing, and I crawled up to the top of that ladder. I’m sitting up there and Perry walks in the studio. I whispered, ‘Psssst...Perry.’ And he froze. He looked around and I said, ‘It’s God.’ And I’m convinced to this day that the reason he’s on television now and is a successful religious rip-off artist is because I put the fear of God in him that very day! I personally put Perry Gaspard on course with the Lord!
"Perry used to entertain us on the road with his ‘gospel routine,’ doing his preacher thing. It was a gag he did to make us laugh but he had the whole gig down when he was sixteen-years-old! Oh, he was a show man onstage. The Bad Roads back then were really wild compared to what kids were used to. We’d get up on top of the PA speakers and we’d be rockin’ out with the guitars and Perry would take that Farfisa organ and fall backwards and let it hit him in the gut. He’d be doin’ the inverted alligator on the ground, playing organ and bouncing it off of his stomach. And the kids loved it, they’d never seen anything like it."
"It wasn’t an organized show," concludes Danny, "we’d just do this chaos thing. That was a nice rep to have at that time because music didn’t get that raucous back then. We had a lot of fun. I mean, we were laughin’ all the way!"
The Bad Roads play at the Ponderosa Stomp on Wednesday, April 28. For a copy of their EP log onto www.sundazed.com.